Two and a half days before the race began, race participants and volunteers boarded a boat for an 11-hour journey down the Tapajos River, headed for the small village that would serve as the jungle base camp. I had planned to meet more of the competitors, but to my dismay I’d caught a bug and developed a cough with a 102F fever. Suddenly, my immediate goal turned into improving my health before the start of the race by resting in my hammock as much as possible. Tired and weakened by the fever, I felt as though I’d already completed a jungle marathon; but this proved that I knew nothing about this race’s extreme toughness.

As the boat approached land at the jungle base camp, my only concern was whether the race doctor would let me run, since the sickness combined with extreme physical exertion could potentially cause permanent internal damage. Fortunately, the following two days were allotted for race preparation and jungle survival training. The training was very short, but we were warned of the numerous venomous snakes (if bitten, stay calm, perform first aid, and wait for assistance), taught how to lessen the chance of a rare jaguar attack, and cautioned about the many insects, as well as plants with devilish spikes and thorns. The jungle trainer – an experienced Brazilian soldier – showed us a normal-looking piece of grass and then proceeded to use this single blade to quickly cut through a 2-inch thick piece of raw piranha meat without much trouble!

In the remaining time, we prepared our race equipment to make our packs as light and efficient as possible. Racers spent the time packing and unpacking, again and again. Due to my inexperience, I had brought along too much food and gear, so much so that I couldn’t fit it all inside my pack, even though I’d tied much gear to the outside.

A couple of experienced racers, Mark and Becky, took pity and helped lighten my load, taking out much of my food and some gear. They also lightened some of my necessary gear by reducing the amount. For example, I had a small package of waterproof matches, but after the overhaul I was left with only 3. Even after all the reductions, my pack still weighed well over 30 pounds, while the average competitor’s bag weighed only 20 pounds. My food was mostly trail mix, protein bars, and MREs. These were substantial nourishment, but much heavier than the backpacker dehydrated food that most racers carried. Fortunately, Mark and Becky let me keep my 2 packets of ice cream (dehydrated!), since they only weighed 3/4 ounce each.

Fortunately, my fever subsided the day before the race, but my cough worsened. Nevertheless, I felt much healthier and was strong enough to race. After hearing from the race organizer that Stage 1 was the toughest – though shortest – of the 6 stages, I planned to take it easy and simply complete the stage without injury.